On Thursday, October 23, 2008, Wendy Yondorf, Director of Volunteers at Hospital for Special Surgery, spoke about volunteer opportunities available at HSS and at other hospitals, and about volunteer opportunities in general in New York City. At HSS, we have volunteers serving in a variety of capacities, including: LupusLine®, LANtern (Lupus Asian Network), and VOICES 60+.
At the workshop, a handful of individuals spoke about their volunteer experiences and why they feel volunteering is important, and everyone agreed that you get back even more than you give to a volunteer experience. Many community volunteers discussed how the act of volunteering has empowered each of them as an individual and how it has changed their lives. Some members of the panel were able to relate to the SLE group members in the context of having lived with chronic illnesses like lupus, and how volunteering has had a positive impact on their lives.
Wendy Yondorf opened up the panel session by sharing her own story. She volunteered for many years at Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), one of the earliest organizations created in response to the AIDS epidemic. She related how her present position at Hospital for Special Surgery working with people who volunteer has been "a real pleasure and privilege" for her. Her job gives her the opportunity to work with people who bring the "best of themselves to the Hospital to do something they care about."
Ms. Yondorf's advice to those who are potentially interested in volunteering is to first think about how they want to share their talents, if they have a cause or concern about a particular issue, and if they want to volunteer where a family member is being served (parents become members of Parent Teacher Associations, and patients with chronic illnesses may look to the hospital where they have been treated).
She also stressed some practical matters: is the site for your volunteering convenient for you? How much time do you have to commit to volunteering? Some organizations require many hours per week, other sites allow for episodic volunteering.
As the director of volunteers, Wendy meets hundreds of people each year, and she finds it fascinating to learn what brought them to her office. Ms. Yondorf provided a few reasons of why many people ultimately decide to volunteer at HSS:
Ms. Yondorf said, "We have complicated lives, and volunteering is one of the best ways to come out of a depression; it is one of the best ways to cope with illness; its one of the best ways to rise above the day to day that brings one down. It’s a great thing that I see day after day."
She further mentioned that one of the best resources to find a volunteer opportunity is the Volunteer Referral Center. They are "superb," exclaimed Ms. Yondorf.
One will get the opportunity to sit for an hour with another volunteer, and a match will be found according to one’s interest. For example, "I want to work with animals, I want to work in a hospital. I want to work with the elderly." They are also very helpful if you’re not sure where you want to volunteer or you might not realize all the skills you have.
Lastly, she spoke about how New York City is a "bountiful place to be a volunteer." There are so many organizations one can pick from. "You as a volunteer have so much power. You can pick a place. If you are going to give them your time, you need the organization to be ready for you."
If you want to start volunteering or want to learn more about different volunteer opportunities, please feel free to contact Wendy Yondorf, the Director of Volunteers at HSS, at 212.606.1228 for more information. Ms. Yondorf also distributed a handout with additional volunteer resources.
A Community Activist and Organizer
The second guest speaker was Joanna J.J. Jackson, who was diagnosed with lupus 29 years ago. She noted that she has been through the "3 D's series: dilemma, drama and deliverance."
She started volunteering 48 years ago in the 1960's. Her advocacy and volunteerism has taken her to organizations far and near, from Eastern European countries such as Hungry and Romania to Brooklyn. She taught English as a second language and became an independent activist and organizer.
Ms. Jackson said that doing what she does is considered "providing a service." "But," she adds, "if you're able to do something for someone else and see how much they benefit by it, it makes you feel good." She believes that some people volunteer because they want to give something that has been taken away from them, providing as an example her own case: having a chronic illness and trying to get back on her feet.
Ms. Jackson said, "You're not the person that you used to be, but you can be a better person with your illness. You don't let your illness get the better of you. I choose not to be home looking at the walls."
She continues, "There [were things] I knew I couldn't do because of my condition, but I didn't let that stop me. Being a people person, I decided to work with people. I did it at my convenience, depending on my time. It makes me feel good that I was doing something."
Through volunteering, Ms. Jackson has been able to help "give life" to others, while at the same time create a meaningful life for herself in the context of living with a chronic illness.
A LupusLine Telephone Peer Support Program Volunteer
Ms. Fox was diagnosed with lupus in 1977 and had seizures and other health complications that interfered with her life. Life has changed drastically for her. However, when she first started volunteering at LupusLine, it was the first time she felt that she wasn’t alone, and it made her want to give back.
Volunteering was the one thing she could do to make others not feel alone in the world, especially if they had an illness. Volunteering is being involved with others in the community, whether they have lupus or not.
Ms. Fox remembered that when she started to come to the SLE Workshop and met with Roberta Horton, it changed her life. She got involved with LupusLine and became a volunteer and loved every minute of it.
At first, she thought she was not able to do it; having a profession as an attorney and managing her illness became demanding. However, finding something that fit with her life, which was LupusLine, made her feel better about herself. She realized that volunteering can be done from the comfort of one's home and it can even last for a couple of hours.
"I felt like I could do something for someone else," Ms. Fox says, describing how she realized how well it works to have someone to listen to you and to have a support group. "That's what the other person gets from you when you volunteer," she emphasized. "The feeling, of 'wow, now I'm not alone - there's someone out there."
As an attorney, she still is always striving to learn something about herself, and, by volunteering, she found she loves to solve problems and has learned to become a better listener. She learned to help improve others while helping and improving herself.
VOICES 60+ Senior Advocacy Program Volunteer
Natasha Mroczek next shared with us her experience in the HSS VOICES 60+ program, advocating for adults 60 years of age and older who have rheumatologic and orthopedic conditions.
She has worked with clients both outside and inside the Hospital. For instance, she helps them with public transportation and requests for home care aid, or arranges meetings with patient advocates for the client. Ms. Mroczek is a graduate student in clinical psychology and finds it a rewarding experience to have this "hands-on" work opportunity, and to really get to understand this particular population. She realized how much she enjoys working with older adults and has learned so much with the different tasks she is involved with.
She described one of her moments: "I remember a phone call I had with a client; I was helping them figure out their insurance situation and when I got it straightened out, I felt really good." Ms. Mroczek's most memorable moments volunteering is when she works with staff and other volunteers, who are very "nice and upbeat." She also enjoys the feeling that she has helped and improved her clients' lives.
Angela Lui, LANtern (Lupus Asian Network) Volunteer
Lastly, there's a volunteer from LANtern (Lupus Asian Network). She was diagnosed with lupus as a young child and it was difficult being an Asian with this illness. She explained how difficult it was to share what she was going through because she felt no one understood her.
She always felt she wasn't a part of anything, but when she started to volunteer at LANtern and met others who were similar to her, she felt more empowered. And that is when she discovered that she wasn't alone and she did not ever want anyone at any point in their life to feel alone.
"I realized that I wanted to help someone else. I found myself through LANtern."
She knew how busy her life could be, and it was hard to sort out her schedule. However, she worked it out and tried to volunteer once a week for a few hours. She stressed that volunteering has helped her get through her week. Ms. Lui said that when a client asked her what she wanted to do if she could do anything, she responded, "I wanted to be Santa Claus, not to give people things, but to give people someone they can talk to or give them support."
This special group of experts not only shared their experiences, but also touched and empowered the SLE members in a special and personal way. They helped them realize how everyone could make a difference, big or small – and in the process, transform their own lives.
"We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." - Mother Theresa
Summary by Lay Tep, SLE Workshop Coordinator and Social Work Intern